COVID-19: After Rwanda, South Africa enters lockdown

Number of cases in South Africa jumped 6 times to 402 in 8 days

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Tuesday 24 March 2020

South Africa became the second African country to impose a nation-wide lockdown after Rwanda because of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The 21-day lockdown was announced by the country’s president Cyril Ramaphosa on March 23, 2020. It will come into effect on March 26.

The number of those infected with the virus (SARS-CoV-2) jumped six times to 402 cases in just eight days, from the earlier reported 61 cases.

International flights to major airports would be suspended and strict new quarantine regulations would also be imposed once the lockdown comes into effect.

South Africa had declared the disease outbreak a national disaster on March 16. The country took several measures including social distancing and shutting its schools, as measures to contain the spread of the virus.

The unprecedented measures were important to avoid a “catastrophe of huge proportions”, said Ramaphosa.

The nation-wide lockdown will be enacted through the country’s Disaster Management Act and be enforced by the police and army.

The measures, however, are not enough to contain the spread of the disease.

South Africa — along with Egypt and Algeria — have emerged as hotspots for the virus in the continent.

“The numbers will continue to rise. It is clear that we need to urgently and dramatically escalate our response,” Ramaphosa said, adding that there could be thousands of new cases “within a few weeks” if nothing was done.

South Africa — with a population of 56 million — already deals with suppressed immunity due to high prevalence of HIV and tuberculosis as well as high levels of poverty and malnutrition.

Ramaphosa acknowledged that existing health infrastructure will not be able to take the pressure from a rapid rise in infections.

The health services of the country will be stretched beyond manageable limits, with many people unable to access the care they needed.

A public health management programme to significantly increase screening, testing, contact tracing and medical management will be followed by the lockdown, Ramaphosa said.

Strategic public health measures, apart from the lockdown, were needed to avoid a resurgence of the virus later on, according to Mike Ryan, the executive director of the health emergencies programme at the World Health Organization (WHO).

Access to clean water supply is essential to achieve the desired outcome. Emergency water supplies, including water storage tanks, water tankers, boreholes and communal standpipes were being provided to informal settlements and rural areas.

Community health teams are attempting to expand screening and testing where people live, focusing on high-density and high-risk areas first.

A system will be put in place for ‘centralised patient management’ for severe cases and ‘decentralised primary care’ for mild cases, to ensure hospitals were not overwhelmed.

A severe economic crisis was looming above many African countries, including South Africa, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) had warned on March 13.

The creation of a safety net to support those in the informal sector was also announced by Ramaphosa, keeping in mind the economic fallout from the public health emergency.

He also asked the country to do everything it could to reduce the overall number of infections and to delay the spread of infection over a longer period, known as flattening the curve of infections.

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